The 2012 Oscar winning documentary finally hits UK cinemas. Directed by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, Undefeated takes on a persona that is much more than your average inspiring sports doc, as it creates a real connection between the viewer and the subject.
Chronicling the 2009 season of the Manassas Tigers, a disadvantaged and underappreciated Memphis High School football team, we follow four main subjects through the hardships and emotions of the season. Firstly, Coach Bill Courtney, a larger-than-life father figure whose actions and love for his players is nothing short of heroic. O.C Brown, an athletically gifted college scouted senior struggling with his studies. Chavis Daniels, a troubled and hot headed student trying to learn to mature, and finally Montrail ‘Money’ Brown, an honours student and team member with financial difficulties that may stop him from attending college.
Undefeated could easily be mistaken as one of those sickly manipulative ‘underdogs do good’ stories, the fact that they have come from being the worst team in the city to genuine playoff contenders not helping the case, but the film is never that simple. Not really about Football as a sport, but focusing on the ideals of Football that you could bring into everyday life. It’s an escape, a time and place where their environment or normal day-to-day stresses don’t matter. Showing audiences how difficult it would be to not be dictated by your surroundings.
And that’s where Bill Courtney comes in, because even as cheesy or clichéd it may sound, he’s not only teaching the kids to play football, he’s teaching them to be men. His guidance and dedication is astounding to watch, and his presence is absolutely needed, not only for the film, but needed in the lives of these kids. His never-give-up attitude keeps many of these young men on the straight and narrow, knowing that if he wasn’t there trying his hardest to better the lives of his players that they would have given up a long time ago.
Emotionally, it hits you harder than any of the tackles made on the field, but it’s unexpected. You don’t really notice how much you’ve invested in these people until about three quarters in, and when it happens – bang – it’s wonderful moment of cinematic joy that will stay with you for days. It’s a film that wears its heart on its sleeve and you have to applaud that.
In Undefeated, Football is just a crutch so that we can get to know the people, and what fascinating and brave people they are. It’s raw and intimate style keeps you involved and invested in the story of this team as individually and collectively they strive to be better.